The evil eye is a curse or legend believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury, while others believe it to be a kind of supernatural force that casts or reflects a malevolent gaze back-upon those who wish harm upon others (especially innocents). Talismans or amulets created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called “evil eyes”.
Attempts to ward off the curse of the evil eye have resulted in a number of talismans in many cultures. As a class, they are called “apotropaic” (Greek for “prophylactic” / προφυλακτικός or “protective”, literally: “turns away”) talismans, meaning that they turn away or turn back harm.
Disks or balls, consisting of concentric blue and white circles (usually, from inside to outside, dark blue, light blue, white, and dark blue) representing an evil eye are common apotropaic talismans in West Asia, found on the prows of Mediterranean boats and elsewhere; in some forms of the folklore, the staring eyes are supposed to bend the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer.
Known as nazar (Turkish: nazar boncuğu or nazarlık), this talisman is most frequently seen in Turkey, found in or on houses and vehicles or worn as beads.
The idea expressed by the term causes many different cultures to pursue protective measures against it. The concept and its significance vary widely among different cultures, but it is especially prominent in the Mediterranean and West Asia. The idea appears multiple times in Jewish rabbinic literature. It was a widely extended belief among many Mediterranean and Asian tribes and cultures. Charms and decorations with eye-like symbols known as nazars, which are used to repel the evil eye, are a common sight across Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Brazil, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Nepal, Pakistan, parts of India, Morocco, southern Spain, parts of Mexico, Malta, Romania, Bulgaria, the Balkans, the Levant, Afghanistan, Syria, and Bahrain, and have become a popular choice of souvenir with tourists. Other popular amulets and talismans used to ward off the evil eye include the hamsa, while Italy (especially Southern Italy) employs a variety of other unique charms and gestures to defend against the evil eye, including the cornicello, the cimaruta, and the sign of the horns.
Belief in the evil eye dates back to Greek Classical antiquity. It is referenced by Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. Peter Walcot’s Envy and the Greeks (1978) listed more than one hundred works by these and other authors mentioning the evil eye.